Was the Simulated Lenape Village at Waterloo Built atop an Old Burying Ground?
By Kevin Wright
Wrights Pond in Byram Township is named for my Sussex County progenitor, Charles Wright, who purchased land on the Punk Horn Creek in 1767. The creek’s name derives from the Unami word, pankhanne, describing “a steep stream bank.” When I was still in college, I attempted to locate the burial site of Charles Wright and his son Samuel, but they were not to be found in any of the extant cemeteries in the surrounding towns of Andover, Sparta, Stanhope, Lockwood, Waterloo, or even in an old burial yard under the waters of Lake Lackawanna. Or so I thought.
My grandfather, V. Ivan Wright (1893-1971), told me his mother took him in a carriage from Newton to visit his ancestors’ graves in Byram Township. They first stopped at the old Lockwood Burial Ground, alongside what is now Route 206. The rubble foundation between the cemetery and the road marks the site of the Lockwood Methodist Church, which collapsed into its cellar hole not many years before my grandfather’s visit. There they decorated the graves of his mother’s grandfather, Frederick Queren, a French ironworker employed at the Columbia Forge, her grandmother Sarah Ann Sutton and her great-grandparents, James and Sarah Sutton. Since this burial ground opened when the church was dedicated in 1835, it could not harbor the interments of Byram Township’s pioneer settlers. So, where were they? Mentally retracing his steps, Grandpa recalled riding south a short distance along the old turnpike road (Route 206) before turning west onto Waterloo Road. When they arrived at their anticipated destination —an ancient burial ground on a spit of land projecting into Waterloo Lake— my great-grandmother was quite taken back to find some of the headstones removed. According to Grandpa, she rode to a nearby house and inquired about the disappearance, but the occupants pleaded ignorance. When they were leaving by the kitchen door and returning to their carriage, Grandpa said he felt his mother squeeze his hand, pointing unobtrusively downward with her free hand and winking knowingly. Overturned slabs of what appeared to be broken tombstones paved the walkway around the house under their very feet.
It would be another seven or eight years before I was able to confirm the existence of this ancient burying ground on the banks of the Musconetcong River at Waterloo, for myth obscured history, here as in so many other places. James Snell, in his 1881 History of Sussex and Warren Counties, New Jersey, alludes to the existence of a large aboriginal cemetery located about a quarter mile north of Waterloo: “About a quarter of a mile from the village may be seen the remnant of what was once an Indian graveyard, where numerous jagged headstones proclaim how the savages sought in their crude way to set a sign upon the last resting-places of their dead. These relics have been scrupulously respected by the Messrs. Smith, owners of the land, and, although the plowshare has freely invaded the domain about them, it has not been permitted to disturb the bones of the long-departed children of the forest.” (Snell, 468)
This story is easily traced to its source, for Seymour Smith, a partner with his brothers in the operation of Waterloo’s store and mills, and whose residence stands nearly opposite the canal store, supplied a poetic narrative of the same curious resting place to the New Jersey Herald in 1876: “...To the east [of the Indian village], lies an old Indian burying ground, in which the rough stone marks the final resting place of many a departed child of the forest. The wild grass grows rank and thrifty over the graves, the rude plow of the husbandman having never entered the sacred precincts to disturb them from their sleep that knows no waking, or to imprint a single furrow on the bosom of those driven from their native homes. There they rest in a quiet nook, nestled securely at the foot of the mountain side, over which they have time and again chased the fleeing deer and the wild game, while the calm, clear waters of the modest little lake, on which they have trapped the otter and the mink, washes the eastern and southern shore.”
The promotional booklet for Lake Waterloo Estates, published about 1927, reports: “An old Indian burying ground apparently was located in a rise of land which juts into the waters of what is now the main lake of a chain.” A portion of this burying ground became an island in Waterloo Lake when the Mountain Ice Company excavated a channel to redirect the river’s current along the northwestern bank and thus create a deep quiet pool of water, free of debris, for their ice harvests. Remnants of a dike, which once channeled the flow of water around the ice pond, are still discernible at the upper end of the lake. This short canal or ditch detached the peninsula bearing part of the cemetery from the shore, thereby creating the smaller and more westerly of the two islands in Waterloo Lake. This old cemetery reportedly encompassed about 50 interments.
In 1979-80, I interviewed Seymour Smith’s nephew, Sanford Roy Smith (1887-1982), the son of Peter D. Smith, of Waterloo. Pointing out the site on the lake shore, he easily recalled archaeological explorations there, saying, “From what father told me, he said that it was never, in his opinion, an Indian burial ground.” In helping to dig a new channel for the river, Roy Smith excavated one of the burials on this artificial island, saying he “was in the early twenties at the time and I had this canvas up over me, and I was down six feet, ‘til I come to that doggone coffin down in there. Well, I didn’t know the sun had gone out, and there was a WHAM! The most God-awful shock I ever saw and the top of the coffin fell in and I went down about two feet. Holy smokes, I didn’t know what was happening!” A skeleton was found with pewter buttons and a clay pipe with flowers painted on it and a deer-horn stem. Had Roy found my great-great-great-great grandfather Wright?
Sandford Roy Smith was born in the southwest second-floor bedroom of his father Peter D. Smith’s home at Waterloo on August 21, 1887. He died at his residence in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1982. Two years earlier, in 1980, he provided tape-recorded answers to questions that I prepared for him. Based upon these taped interviews, my friend Robert Smith provides a verbatim transcript of Roy’s description of the excavation of graves in the Old Indian Burial Ground at Waterloo, which now underlies the simulated Lenape Village: “There is an area that has been known as the Indian burial ground, which is, of course, doubtful because Indians didn’t bury below ground; they buried above ground. With that in mind, approximately 60 years ago [circa 1920] a group of Antiquarians legally came and opened three graves in the area. There are some 50 graves that are marked there but three that were opened—these men knew what they were doing and it was judged that one was Irish, one was French, and one was an Indian. The graves were all eight feet deep to the top of the coffin and the coffin was of the antique shape, narrow at the top and long to the feet, wide at the shoulders and had been made of hand-hewn planks and hand-wrought nails used to seal them up. In these graves were found several artifacts such as brass buttons, a pipe, and the quantities of hair still visible. These graves were closed subsequently and they are still there the same as they were in early times.” (Sandford Roy Smith, Tape 1, Transcript, 15-16)
Of course, Roy was wrong in saying “Indians didn’t bury below ground” as numerous such inhumations have been discovered over the years in and around Sussex County. It is clear, however, that the Waterloo graveyard was not “completely looted”in the early twentieth century---as some have claimed---or at any time previous to the Second World War, while Roy was associated with his home village.
Making some allowance for the date, it is conceivable that Professor Max Schrabisch was involved in opening, examining and respectfully closing these graves while he was exploring throughout Sussex County for evidence of prehistoric Indian habitations. From local newspaper accounts, we know Professor Schrabisch was wandering on the mountain above Waterloo May 1913, where he met with a copperhead, three and a half feet long, which he quickly dispatched. He proceeded but a short distance when he heard the sound of a rattlesnake, possessing six rattles and a button, which he also vanquished. According to the local correspondent, Professor Schrabisch, the master of several languages, thought it might be necessary “to take up snakeology if he decides to pass the summer in Sussex.”
Apparently, this sacred precinct for the dead does contain the bones of the ancient people, who first appear to us in history as the Allamuchahocking (“the land at the foot of the mountain”) This cemetery also contains interments of the ironworkers of Andover Forge and of the pioneer settlers of Byram Township. Another story tells us that this burying ground holds the bones of Lafayette’s soldiers, who supposedly died of smallpox while quarantined in huts at Waterloo, The promotional booklet for Lake Waterloo Estates, published about 1927, states, “The health-giving atmosphere of the territory is attested by the fact that during the time of Washington’s occupancy of headquarters in Morristown many of his French allied soldiers attacked by a small-pox were encamped in quarantine on a bluff overlooking the valley. A group of stones facing east marks the spot.” (Lake Waterloo Estates, 16-17).